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Big Promotions.net, Advertising Specialties, Dallas, TX

The Case Against Conventional Wisdom

by Susan Morgan on August 14, 2008

In a recent BusinessWeek article, author Steve McKee discussed the ways business owners are using counter-programming principles to surprising effect. A counter-marketing (or what some might call counter-intuitive) approach to presenting your business can be an amazingly effective way to get attention and make yourself stand out.

Some of the suggestions you might consider…

  • put MORE products in packages, not less
  • make house calls/pickup and deliver
  • offer a narrower (rather than wider) selection of products or services
  • be intolerant/passionate/committed about an issue or cause
  • take the road less traveled
  • offer an unheard of guarantee or service policy

Counter-marketing is not a new idea, loads of businesses use it. In the article, McKee mentions radio stations and the major television networks, who have for years offered programming alternatives to the Super Bowl.

A more recent example of this principlein the entertainment world comes from Universal Pictures bold release of Mama Mia! the very same weekend as powerhouse Batman, The Dark Knight. On the surface it seems like a move that runs counter to conventional wisdom. But the makers of Mama Mia! knew one thing about their product — it would appeal to a vastly different audience than the summer blockbuster. They were right, and the two films  together pushed the opening weekend box office numbers to record highs.

Other daring enterprises have seen the value of counter-marketing.

Fast food chain Carl’s Jr has bucked the health-conscious, fast food trend by proudly offering a 730 calorie, 47 fat gram “Monster Breakfast Sandwich.” It’s big and sloppy and probably delicious. With most fast food chains falling all over themselves to tout healthy alternatives and suck all the flavor from what they do have left, this approach stands alone. And it appeals to the hard-core, fast-food loving, hungry souls who’ve been feeling… well, squeezed out in the rush to regulate us into healthy living.

Yet another example comes from Southwest Airlines. The company is using counter-marketing to good effect, proudly declaring “Fees Don’t Fly With Us” and standing alone in the industry in refusing to charge for a second suitcase, snacks, window seat, pillows, blankets and water. Of course fuel is covered by a “surcharge”. 

Seeing how effective this outside-the-box approach can be, ask yourself. Are there ways you can do this in your own business? You can… if you put in a bit of time and some creative thinking. Focus on the idea, not the execution for now. Don’t limit yourself with what you “should” be doing, and focus instead on ways to make your business unlike anyone or anything out there. 

Think about your industry… and its conventional wisdom. Is there some expectation or convention that you can turn on its head? Maybe you offer free delivery, an unconventional guarantee, more product support than your competitors. Maybe you narrow your offerings but offer exceptional quality. Whatever you do that’s unexpected and of value to the customer works to immediately set you apart.

No one else does it, so you own it.

Sure some of the ideas you come up with might be a tad impractical… a bit out there. Evaluate later, for now just think about ways to make your business UNLIKE what’s out there. The road less traveled. You might shock a few people, maybe send some small number running for the hills. But you’ll also have an irresistible appeal to a segment of the market that is under served… and be in a prime position to win their loyalty, and repeat business.

Susan Morgan on sabtwitterSusan Morgan on sabfacebook
Susan Morgan
Creative, passionate and detailed, Susan brings 25-plus years professional writing experience to a variety of projects — get-noticed direct mail pieces, full line print catalogs, eye-catching color brochures and totally original. search engine friendly company blogs, web pages and online articles.

A lifelong love of storytelling has also produced a full-length novel (Out of the Ordinary published by booklocker in 2007). Susan continues to indulge her passion for fiction with a growing number of short stories (one an award winner in 2004, another in 2008) and finalizing a second novel.

In her spare time Susan enjoys gardening, studying astrology and tarot, being with family and friends and keeping up with politics and current events.


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